Today has been spent walking one of my favourite haunts, a secret place among the quieter paths of the Clwydian hills. With a soft, warm breeze riffling my hair and the Vale of Clwyd ethereal under blue and gold, I watched as a skylark spiralled and pirouetted into infinity in the clear skies above me, pouring out liquid, bubbling notes of elation in praise of this unseasonably warm and glorious Sunday in late February.
I am in my element when roaming the airy beauty of these heather-clad hills with only the cry of the birds and the bleating of sheep as a soundtrack. This is where I return time and again, drawn back always to the wide open spaces and the rolling, soft green velvet of the hills.
The Clwydian Range, stretching from Llandegla in the south to Prestatyn in the north, has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, as witnessed by Neolithic remains found in the limestone caves between Graianrhyd and Llandegla, and the discovery of animal bones including those of bison, woolly rhinoceros and hyenas at the prehistoric settlement at Gop’r Leni, or Gop Hill Cairn, near Trelawnyd, the second largest prehistoric mound in Britain, and according to local legend, the site of Queen Boudicca’s final battle.
The remains of iron-age hillforts – possibly the highest concentration in Britain – are still evident in the landscape, along with even earlier bronze-age burial mounds. It is believed that these hillforts were occupied by the north-eastern Celtic tribe, the Deceangli (or Tegeingl), who submitted to the Romans in a campaign of AD 48, the attacking troops possibly operating from one of their auxiliary forts at Prestatyn or Ruthin. In 1816 a hoard of Roman coins was uncovered on Moel Fenlli, and in 1962 three copper bronze age flat axes were also discovered there; earlier excavations revealed Roman pottery in the same place, alongside flint arrowheads, all of which points to significant activity at this hill fort either side of the Iron Age. In the late 19th century there was even a short lived ‘Cilcain Gold Rush’, reputedly triggered by the discovery of a gold nugget at the remains of a quarry near Moel Arthur.
Ancient drovers’ roads also cross the landscape, a legacy from the days when livestock was herded on foot from the area to markets in England.
There were of course, stop-off points along the way, including the village of Cilcain, which despite its small size, at one time boasted a smithy (now a private house) and seven pubs! Locals and visitors to the village today continue to be very well served by The White Horse Inn, the last remaining watering hole.
Sheep and cattle still graze these peaceful uplands, where buzzards and rooks tumble in aerial battle, kestrels hover, and small birds make their nests amid the golden gorse. In this hauntingly beautiful landscape of constantly changing light and wind-chased clouds, a place where shadows and memories lie dark and deep, we can still glimpse traces of our past in the rocks, in the stones and in the earth itself.
But should you catch a slight sound on the breeze, something light and soft as down, stop awhile and listen – it might, just might, be the whisperings of those ancient souls who once called these hills their home, for they still have more to tell.
Inspired by a visit to the Clwydian Hills on Sunday 24th February 2019, a record-breaking weekend for Welsh weather!